LITR 4370 Tragedy

Homepage & Syllabus
associated seminar: LITR 5831 Tragedy & Afrioa

Spring 2017
Thursdays 1-3:50pm
Bayou 2237

Dr. White's



Instructor: Craig White   Office: Bayou 2529-8   
: 281 283 3380.       Email:

Office Hours:  Thursdays 4-7, by appointment, etc.

Course webpage:

Course Policies; class music

Attendance policy: You're expected to attend every scheduled class meeting but allowed one free cut without penalty or question. Avoid taking your cut earlyoften a sign of further difficulties.

Missing more than one meeting jeopardizes your status in the course. If you keep cutting, missing, or leaving early, drop the course. 

Even with medical or other emergency excuses, a high number of absences or partial attendances may result in a significantly lower or failing grade. You can always discuss with me how to recover lost ground.


Midterm1 (17-21 Feb.)

Midterm2 (30 March)

Final exam w/ research report (4 May)

final grade report

student presentations
(1-2 per student):

text discussion leader

video presentation

genre presentation

Birth of Tragedy presentation

Bacchae presentation

Required Texts to purchase:

Eugene O'Neill, Three Plays: Desire Under the Elms, Strange Interlude, Mourning Becomes Electra (Vintage; ISBN 978-0679763963)

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Shaun Whiteside (Penguin Classics; ISBN 978-0-14-043339-5)

 Handouts / Essential Sites

Aristotle's Poetics

Genres (introduction & overview)

narrative genres

  Tragedy; Comedy; Romance; Satire

list of genres (ad infinitum)

Classical Greek Poets & Philosophers

Glossary to Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy

Instructor's notes on Birth of Tragedy

class instructional videos

mimesis (art imitates life) a.k.a. imitation, or representation

Purposes of Literature: to Entertain & Instruct

Is Tragedy the Greatest Genre?

Tragedy Modernizes

Periods of Tragedy

films that might be tragedies

Oedipal Complex

comic theory notes

popular, classic, & representative literature

Two mainstreams of Western civilization

"The tragedy of life is what makes it worthwhile.  . . . [A]ny life which merits living
lies in the effort to realize some dream, and the higher that dream is the harder it is to realize.
 . . .
The only success is in failure. Any man who has a big enough dream must be a failure and must accept this
as one of the conditions of being alive.
  If he ever thinks for a moment that he is a success, then he is finished."

Eugene O'Neillqtd in Arthur and Barbara Gelb, O'Neill (NY: Dell, 1965), p. 180.

LITR 4370 spring 2017

Thursdays 1-3:50; Bayou 2237

reading & meeting schedule

maps for Tragedy

Thursday, 19 January 2017: course introduction: aspects of genre; student IDs & presentations

preview Aristotle's Poetics & Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy

preview Agamemnon (part 1 of Oresteia Trilogy)

photos of ancient Greek theaters

Two mainstreams of Western civilization, architecture

Classical Greek Poets & Philosophers

Bacchae Presentation One (lines 1-72): instructor


Syllabus, textbooks, assignments, presentations

What do we already know about tragedy?

questions? > genres > Tragedy as greatest genre? (tragedy and romance + narrative).

preview Agamemnon; presentation preferences


purposes of literature: mimesis + entertain & inform

ancient Greeks as founders of Western Civilization

critical thinking, drama, dialogue, dialectic

Birth of Tragedy: Apolline / Dionysiac; Introduce Dionysus

& Euripides, The Bacchae (Presentation One)

email tonight

Discussion questions:

1. What do we know or think when we say "tragic" or "tragedy?" How do we use the words "tragic" or "tragedy" in everyday speech?

1a. How does colloquial use differ from literary use? (Compare to "romantic" or "romance.")

2. What do you already know about tragedy? What is the status of tragedy in schools compared to popular culture? Why is tragic drama (Greek or Shakespearean) taught in secondary schools, esp. in Advanced Placement and College Prep?

3. What does our civilization owe to classical Greece? What conflicts with later religion? What cooperation or co-evolution? (Two mainstreams of Western civilization)

4. How does teaching of theater or drama compare to teaching fiction or lyric poetry?

Aeschylus's Oresteia Trilogy (458 BCE)

& O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra (1931 CE)

Thursday, 26 January 2017: Agamemnon (Part 1 of Oresteia trilogy)

reading assignments:

Agamemnon complete; discussion leader:

Aristotle's Poetics: parts I, IV: instructor

Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy presentation p. 14; notes + visit Birth of Tragedy Glossary + Apolline / Dionysiac; Discussion: instructor

Bacchae Presentation Two (lines 73-332): instructor

Video presentation:

Oakland production of Agamemnon (masks)

humorous amateur silent production of Death of Agamemnon (YouTube)

The Death of Agamemnon (Texas State U.)

Agenda: office hours, presentation prefs

Poetics: art as mimesis, tragedy as narrative

genre as form and evolution / history


discuss Agamemnon:  

comedy in tragedy?


video: Clark 

assignments: genre, Apollo

spectacle >

Birth of Tragedy; Apollo / Dionysus; question 7

Bacchae Presentation 2; prologue;

"Mask of Agamemnon"

Discussion questions for Agamemnon:

 1. Agamemnon starts and builds slowly, but what kinds of audience pleasures may grow with it? How does the play challenge you not only to take some kind of pleasure but also to learn? (literature entertains and informs)

2. You may not know the story of the Trojan War, Helen of Troy, Agamemnon, and Cassandra, but the audience at Athens knew it. What difference in experience if you know the story or not beforehand? (When we go to a movie, how much do we already know the story beforehand?)

3. Everyone can agree that Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia is horrible, but in the spirit of tragedy, how is it that he's not just a villain or a bad guy as in romance?

3a. Contrast the different appeal of Cassandra's appearance—How does Cassandra appear more as a romance character, in this case the "innocent victim?" 

4. How may the initial appearance by the guard be potentially comical? (See comedy; wit & humor; comic theory)

5. Uses or repression of spectacle?

6. Aristotle's Poetics: parts I, IV: What is imitation or mimesis and what does it have to do with tragedy?

7. Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy: Distinguish the Apolline and Dionysiac in Nietzsche's language and your own.


Thursday, 2 February 2017: Complete Oresteia trilogy (Review Agamemnon, read excerpts of Libation Bearers & Eumenides)    Reading assignments:

Agamemnon (complete); The Libation Bearers (excerpts); The Eumenides (excerpts); Discussion leader: Faron Samford

Aristotle's Poetics: parts V, VI; Discussion: Instructor

Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy presentation, Chapter 1, pp. 14-18; notes + Birth of Tragedy Glossary; Discussion: instructor

Genre presentation: comedy  Presenter: Caly Rosene (use comedy, Poetics, & personal example)

terms: Electra Complex, Oedipal Complex, spectacle, romance, sublime; didactic literature, Western Civilization

Video presentation: : instructor

Quotation from Libation Bearers as epigraph to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

art depicting the Oresteia

Oakland production of Oresteia (masks)


 presentations, preview midterm1, esp. Genres

narrative genres; Aristotle on comedy

Comedy: Caly

comedy in Agamemnon 

discussion: Faron 


Oresteia  trilogy > assignments

Aristotle on Spectacle 

Areopagus, Eumenides l. 720

 Purposes of Literature: to Entertain & Instruct; Birth of Tragedy

Discussion questions for Oresteia trilogy: 1. As a trilogy: What pleasures or attractions do the 3 plays together offer to an audience? Compare "sequels?"—as in Star Wars, Star Trek, Twilight, Harry Potter. What difference to tragedy if it's part of a trilogy? How do the second and third plays change the impact of Agamemnon or our definitions of tragedy?

2. Libation Bearers: How does Electra model the "Electra Complex" relative to the Oedipal Complex?

3. Euminides: How "tragic" is the ending of The Eumenides & the Oresteia trilogy? Compare to end of comedy in narrative genres. Why or how can it all still be a tragedy if everyone doesn't just die at the end?

4. What does the trilogy achieve in terms of classical Greece as a foundation of Western Civilization? If the Furies or Vengeful Ones are changed into Eumenides or Kindly Ones, what progress has been made?

Consider: revenge culture > peace and prosperity? [Ag 1772-3, 1803-4, 555, 899, 905] humans are aggressive, vengeful, defensive, protective, friends & enemies, us vs. them; civilization creates institutions & practices like courts that mitigate extremes, balances interests, compromise conflicting values, make restitution (revenge culture is Dionysiac? Judicial culture Apolline?)

Electra & Orestes

Characters in Homecoming / Mourning

Characters in Oresteia

Chorus: Seth, townspeople

Choruses: Argive elders, captive women, & Furies

Christine =>


Ezra Manning =>


Lavinia (Vinnie) =>


Adam Brant =>


Orin Manning =>


Marie Brantome or Hazel =>

Cassandra, or Helen of Troy?

Thursday, 9 February 2017: O'Neill's Homecoming: updating Agamemnon

reading assignments: The Homecoming, part 1 of Mourning Becomes Electra, pp. 257-317 in Eugene O'Neill: Three Plays; discussion leader: instructor  (The Homecoming roughly equals the Agamemnon part of the Oresteia)

Aristotle's Poetics: parts VII-XI; Discussion: Instructor

Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy presentation, Chapter 7, pp. 35-40 notes + Birth of Tragedy Glossary; Discussion: Clark Omo

Film / video preview for Oedipus Rex + characters in Oedipus Rex (instructor)

scene from Mourning Becomes Electra (1947 film); RFK & MLK; The Furies (1950 film)

Agenda: tragic films

midterm1 part 3 & samples

RFK & MLK; Agamemnon l. 211; wisdom and suffering

text discussion: 

Eugene O'Neill life, style, epigraph


Birth of Tragedy: chapter 1 > Clark, ch. 7

midterm1 parts 1 & 2 + samples


review comedy, comic theory, preview Lysistrata

Discussion questions: 1. O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra restages The Oresteia in New England after the Civil War instead of Argos after the Trojan War. How has Tragedy changed in 2500 years? (Tragedy Modernizes; exam special topic 1.)

  • status of tragic characters becomes less royal, more human; psychological obsessions and complexes replace fate or will of the gods

  • spectacle & stage machinery more common but still managed carefully

  • other narrative genres mix (esp. romance).

2. Look for spectacle, chorus, role of Agamemnon / Ezra Manning + other characters

3. One change is Freudian psychology, including the "Electra Complex"—the feminine version of the Oedipal Complex. How do tragedy and psychology always end up meeting each other? (even if the Electra Complex is not necessarily good psychology)

4. One continuity (more or less) is masks—O'Neill experimented w/ masks in many plays, and Mourning Becomes Electra constantly refers to masks.

Thursday, 16 February 2017: Lysistrata: a comedy!

discussion assignment: Identify possible selection for Midterm Essay 1 (genre) & Essay 3 (special topic)

reading assignments: Aristophanes, Lysistrata

Comedy as genre; Wit & Humor; Comic theory

Bacchae Presentation Three (lines 333-539): Faron Samford

Video Presentation: College musical production (vow at 12.00) Myrine scene

Lysistrata summary; Lysistrata trailer; Chi-raq trailer (2015)

Agenda: assignments > midterms

start topic discussion

comic narrative in Lysistrata

Bacchae: Faron 

continue topic discussion?

Discussion Questions:
1. Compare and contrast Lysistrata as a comic narrative genre with Oresteia and Mourning Becomes Electra as tragedy.

2. Compare Lysistrata to later comedies by Shakespeare or to modern film comedies or TV sitcoms. What types of characters or situations are familiar across all these examples of comedy?

3. What upsides and downsides to teaching and reading Lysistrata?

Upsides: feminism in ancient Greece; peace instead of war; civil disobedience

Downsides: ribald sexuality on verge of obscenity [Judeo-Christian reflex to cover genitals; Genesis 3.7]

4. Identify elements of humor, wit, and comedy as comic narrative. (Comedy as genre; Wit & Humor; Comic theory; distinguish high comedy & low comedy

5. What different appeals of comedy and tragedy? What impact on audience? How “timeless” are comedy and tragedy, comparatively?

Email take-home first midterm (Midterm1) due b/w Friday 17 February & Tuesday 21 February (Midterm 1)

Sophocles's Theban Trilogy: Oedipus the King [c. 420 BC], Antigone [c. 442 BC], & Oedipus at Colonus [406 BC]

with Hamlet (1601)

Oedipal Family Circus

Thursday, 23 February 2017: begin Oedipus the King

reading assignments:

Genre presentation: romance and/or romantic comedy  Presenter: Katie Morin

Bacchae Presentation Four (lines 540-814): instructor

Video presentation:  (2+ scenes from following links):

Oedipus Rex: the Short, Short Version; Opening of 1984 TV movie of Oedipus the King, part one; Oedipus Rex (1957 film) (expressionism); 1968 film of Oedipus the King


midterms; The Furies

genres; romance narrative

romance: Katie

Bacchae: instructor


Theban trilogy


Aristotle's Poetics

Oedipus / Electra Complex

Discussion questions: 1. In what ways is Oedipus the King like a detective story? In what ways essential to tragedy does it differ?

Background: "Detective stories" remain a popular variation on the romance narrative in which a conflict is introduced or social order is disturbed, evil is projected on a villain, and social order is restored with the villain's punishment. (examples?)

2. Oedipus the King is often proclaimed the greatest classical tragedy, but no one calls it a friendly play, and in fact it's rarely performed. What are the obstacles to enjoying this play? What types of pleasure are possible? Why is it so difficult to identify or sympathize with Oedipus as a tragic hero?

3. If Oedipus the King isn't a friendly play, the Oedipus Complex is also an unattractive subject, but it's also the way Sophocles's play is remembered. Why do literary texts and literary studies keep representing and discussing a repulsive story or subject like the Oedipus Complex? Why has professional Psychology left this concept behind?

4. Oedipus as a character is often discussed in terms of fate vs. free will, and the "tragic flaw" or hamartia. How can we characterize Oedipus's tragic flaw? How does it relate to the mixed characterization of tragedy? (Compare to good guy-bad guy characterization of romance narrative.)

Thursday, 2 March 2017: conclude Oedipus, review Hamlet

reading assignments: Oedipus the King (complete); discussion leader: instructor

Hamlet (excerpts); discussion: instructor

Oedipus Complex; greatness of tragedy; tragedy modernizes; tragic flaw

Aristotle's Poetics: parts XIV, XV, XVIII; Discussion: instructor

Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy presentation, Chapter 8, pp. 40-45 notes + Birth of Tragedy Glossary; Discussion: instructor (Dionysus l. 245)

Genre presentation: Satire   Presenter: Faron Samford

Video presentation: : Zeffirelli Hamlet  Presenter: (show scene w/ Hamlet & Queen in Gertrude's bedroom, connect to Oedipal conflict, plus or minus other scenes from today's readings in Hamlet)


midterms & next week

tragedy modernizes

discussion questions


Genres; Satire: Faron 

Birth of Tragedy:

Discussion questions: Overall, how does the progression from Oedipus the King (420BCE) and Hamlet (1601CE) exemplify how tragedy modernizes?

1. How much is spectacle repressed or indulged in the conclusions to Oedipus the King and Hamlet? (Tragedy Modernizes)

2. Since narrative genres mix more in as tragedy modernizes, how may Hamlet show more of a mix of genres than Oedipus the King?

3. How well do the conclusions to Oedipus the King and Hamlet conform to the appropriate conclusion for the tragic narrative

4. How can we deal with the Oedipal Conflict besides repressing its discussion? Since it's a gross-out subject but it seems to matter, how can we discuss productively or appropriately?

5. How are both Oedipus the King and Hamlet like or unlike a detective story? What do tragedies gain or lose by comparison to romance narratives like detective stories?

6. Question re periods: If tragedy arises during great or imperial periods of history, how may the Elizabethan England of Hamlet resemble the Athens of Greek drama? (Greatness of Tragedy)

Thursday, 9 March 2017:  Antigone

visit to class by Actors from the London Stage (Romeo & Juliet at UHCL, March 9, 10, 11)

reading assignments: Antigone (complete); discussion leader: Kim Bronson (+ welcome to video below)

Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy presentation, Chapters 9-10, pp. 45-54 notes + Birth of Tragedy Glossary; Discussion: instructor (deferred)

Antigone & the tradition of civil disobedience

Bacchae Presentation Five (lines 814-1126): Calyssa Rosene (> 23 March)

Video presentation: Antigone (1984 TV movie), part 1; part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6; part 7; part 8; part 9; part 10; part 11    Presenter:   (Choose 2-3 scenes of 3-5 minutes & comment)


Sarah Finigan, Actor from the London Stage


discussion: Kim

romance narrative


Discussion questions: 1. A generation ago, Oedipus the King was the standard "classical tragedy" read in secondary schools. Today the tragedy of choice is Antigone, which is more popular to teach as classical tragedy in schools today—why? What are its appeals compared to Oedipus the King? How does Antigone feel more popular and appear more modern? (tragedy modernizes)

  Consider Romance elements, such as Antigone as oppressed underdog, Creon as patriarchal villain, suicide as transcendence. Compare Antigone to Romeo & Juliet as "romantic tragedy" or "tragic romance."

Antigone is the first-written of Sophocles's Theban plays. How does the conclusion seem like a young writer's? e.g., melodramatic or "over-the-top" end to Antigone & Haemon? Too obvious and sweeping a change for Creon?

2. Only men wrote Greek tragedies, but women often appear as central characters. What conflicts or responsibilities do they represent that make their lives appropriate subjects for tragedy? In Antigone, for instance, how do the title character's gender-conflicts expose larger problems in Thebes and its leadership?

3. Who is the play's tragic hero? Antigone or Creon? How much does Creon's tragic flaw appear as a crisis of masculinity?

4. How comical (or potentially comic) are the Guard's repeated appearances? ll. 256 ff., 366, 385, 432-450

Thursday, 16 March 2017: No class meeting—Spring Break!

Thursday, 23 March 2017: Oedipus at Colonus

reading assignments:

Oedipus at Colonus (complete) discussion leader: Clark Omo

Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy presentation, Chapters 9-10, pp. 45-54 notesBirth of Tragedy Glossary; Discussion: instructor > 7 April

Bacchae Presentation Five (lines 814-1126): Calyssa Rosene

Instructor presentation: Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes

Video presentation: : scene(s) from Gospel at Colonus; presenter: Katie Morin




Euripides, Greek Poets

Bacchae: Caly

Midterm, assignments, catharsis

Gospel at Colonus: Katie 


Oedipus at Colonus discussion: Clark

Aeschylus, 7 Against Thebes

Oedipus@Colonus w/ Ismen

Oedipus repudiating Polyneices

Confession: Even when your instructor first read Oedipus at Colonus at age 20, it was immediately my favorite tragedy ever, and every re-reading impresses anew how efficiently Sophocles's dialogue develops the plot, how one scene leads to the next, how the scenes build to the semi-"transcendent" conclusion, and how different genre-styles enhance feeling.

Discussion questions: Oedipus at Colonus: The Furies are back! (These spirits of revenge pursued Orestes in the Oresteia. Here, the grove where Oedipus & Antigone rest is sacred to Furies, who would naturally be scandalized by Oedipus's crimes.)

1. Compare the chorus's and audience's potential catharsis of "pity and fear" for Oedipus to our reactions to the same character in Oedipus the King. Since modern audiences typically have a hard time caring about Oedipus as King, what changes our attitudes to him in this play?

2. Oedipus acts helpless, but how helpless is he really, and how much is he controlling the action? How convincing are his speeches justifying his past sins? Evidence of tragic flaw?

2a. Continuing #2, what about Oedipus's character is revealed by his cursing of Polyneices? Why is the scene so powerful and meaningful? Compare to Bible's parable of the Prodigal Son? (Potential contrast of Abrahamic and Classical Greek-Roman ethics)

2b. Since Antigone is Oedipus's true child, compare her character in Oedipus at Colonus to her character in Antigone.

3. How does Oedipus's death resemble the conclusion of a romance as transcendence? (narrative genres)

3a. Compare conclusion to conclusion of the Oresteia trilogy in The Eumenides?

4. Discuss spectacle in Oedipus at Colonus's finale or elsewhere in play? What advantages to showing or not showing rescues, divine actions, etc.?

5. Not to press comparisons to diminishing returns, but how might Oedipus's resolution appear Christ-like or compatible with the Christ story? (This potential analogy is partly encouraged by the translator's use of biblical language.)


Thursday, 30 March 2017: Second Midterm (Midterm2) (email submission window 25-31 March)

Tragedy dies! or does it modernize? Euripides's Hippolytos

+ Racine's Phaedra & O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms

(Hippolytus / Phaedra Archetype)

Other dramatic versions: Seneca (Rome, 4BCE-65CE), Phaedra (app. 54CE); Sarah Kane (1971-99), Phaedra's Love (1996)

Thursday, 6 April 2017: Euripides, Hippolytus

reading assignment:

Hippolytos (read entire play); discussion leader: instructor

Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy presentation, Chapters 9, 10 11, pp. 54-59 notesBirth of Tragedy Glossary; Discussion: instructor (reading optional)


Bacchae Presentation Six (lines 1126-1431): Kim Bronson


midterm2; final exam; assignments


Euripides, Hippolytos discussion: 

Birth of Tragedy

Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan & Isolde



Phaedra tempts Hippolytus

Discussion questions: 1. Euripides, though not held in as high esteem critically as Aeschylus and Sophocles, was the most popular Greek tragedian to later generations. Now that we've read Hippolytos and most of Bacchae, what differences are observable between Euripides and the earlier Greek tragedians? If you like Hippolytos, why? What's modern and popular about Euripides? What remains classical? Does he indulge or repress Spectacle or the Romance Narrative?  (tragedy modernizes)

1a. Since Nietzsche (ch. 11) describes Euripides as the death of tragedy and the birth of New Attic Comedy (the forerunner of the situation comedy or sit-com), how and where is Hippolytus either comic or almost comic?

2. What made Euripides the most popular of the great Greek playwrights for later audiences? If schoolteachers (and Nietzsche) prefer for students to admire Aeschylus and Sophocles, what about Euripides's plays appeals more immediately?

2a. Consider Euripides's sympathetic depictions of women and potentially alt-gendered characters like Dionysus, Pentheus, Hippolytus, and Artemis / Diana.

3. Aristotle's Poetics on Euripides: XIII. "[T]hey are in error who censure Euripides just because . . . his plays . . . end unhappily.  It is . . . the right ending. . . . Euripides, faulty though he may be in the general management of his subject, yet is felt to be the most tragic of the poets. . . ." Aristotle is speaking negatively about Euripides's style, but positively about his power?

3a. Also XVIII. " . . . The chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors; it should be an integral part of the whole, and share in the action, in the manner not of Euripides but of Sophocles." How does Euripides use the chorus differently from Sophocles? (Examples from Hippolytos and Bacchae.)

4. Is Nietzsche justified in criticizing Euripides for losing the mythic and Dionysian grandeur of Aeschylus & Sophocles? How do Nietzsche's complaints about Euripides inform our questions and discussions? What risk or gains in describing popular art as decadent?


Thursday, 13 April 2017 Racine, Phaedra

reading assignment:  

Racine, Phaedra; discussion leader: Katie Morin

mythic & scriptural texts for Hippolytus & Phaedra; discussion: instructor (Question: What impact or interest in knowing these backgrounds?)

terms: Catharsis; Honor

Video presentation: : preview Desire Under the Elms trailer ; scene; Chicago revival ad; as Chinese opera (instructor)

+ Phaedra commercial (England National Theatre 2009, starring Helen Mirren); Baroque music; Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie (1683-1764; 1733, 1742) ballet


Hippolytus / Hippolytos; Venus / Aphrodite; Theseus, Odysseus

midterms, finals, , backgrounds

discussion: Katie 

Oedipal conflict; Catharsis; honor


mythic and scriptural texts

Birth of Tragedy


Discussion questions:  1.Compare / contrast Racine's Phaedra with Euripides's Hippolytos; mostly the same characters and story line, but what changes? What fills out? What variations or additions in genre?

2. Since Phaedra (1677) appears app. 2000 years after Hippolytus, how may it be more modern? How is it not modern? (Tragedy Modernized)

3. What impact from adding characters like Aricia or Ismene? (esp. Aricia as romance, & Oenone as comedy?) (Different Ismene than Oedipus's sister / daughter, in this case the "nurse" or servant to Phaedra)

4. What is the impact of more genre-mixing, esp. mixing tragedy with comedy and romance?

5. How does the Oedipal Conflict factor into the story of Phaedra (and, possibly, similar stories of "cougars" or older women-younger men stories).

Thursday, 20 April 2017: begin Desire Under the Elms

reading assignments: Desire Under the Elms, parts 1 & 2 (pp. 1-43); discussion leader: Calyssa Rosene

Video presentation: Desire Under the Elms DVD (1st half): (Calyssa?)

Bacchae Presentation Seven (lines 1431-1776): Clark Omo

Question(s) for conclusion of Bacchae: How does Bacchae resemble Hippolytos as a work by Euripides and not by Aeschylus and Sophocles? What attractions or misgivings regarding Euripides? How are Aristotle's (13c, 18b) and Nietzsche's criticisms of Euripides justified?

Euripides, Medea


final exam, apostrophes!

discussion / video: Calyssa

Catharsis in Desire?
Phaedra 1367 

[break; evaluations]

Bacchae: Clark


Greatness of Tragedy



Discussion Questions for 22 & 29 April:

1. Desire Under the Elms makes no direct allusions to the Hippolytus / Phaedra or Joseph / Yusuf sources, but what continuities or differences between Desire Under the Elms, Hippolytos, and Phaedra? How has Desire become more modern? (Tragedy Modernized)

2. How does the Oedipal Conflict find expression through the Hippolytus-Phaedra archetype? Or are there other possibilities for interpreting this persistent narrative pattern?

3. Identify elements of Expressionism in O'Neill's style. (The Hairy Ape)

4. Identify religious elements like prophecy, the supernatural, or the Dionysiac. Is Cabot's God as human as the Greek gods?that is, a divine reflection or embodiment of human impulses and desires?

5. Identify appearance of other genres:

  • dark humor or comedy and the grotesque. (esp. Ephraim's dance, & the brothers Simeon & Peter; may the brothers also act as a chorus?)

  • romance, especially in the conclusion (within limits) (romance narrative conclusion = transcendence)

6. How and where is spectacle revealed or repressed?


Thursday, 27 April 2017: complete Desire Under the Elms

reading assignment:

Video presentation: Desire Under the Elms (2nd half): Clark Omo

Concluding discussion questions:

1. How teach / cultivate pleasure in Tragedy, which imitates or depicts suffering?

2. What remember learning in this course? Or, what trying or planning for final exam?


 next semester's classes; final exam, office hours

Desire discussion questions 4, 5, 6



video: Clark



concluding discussion; tragedy

Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan & Isolde

Thursday, 4 May 2017: final exam; email submission window 28 April-5 May. Instructor holds office hours 1-5pm 4 May. (No class meeting) Final grades posted & final grade reports emailed 5-10 days after submission.

Course Objectives:

Objective 1. To read classical and later examples of Tragedy:

The 3 great Greek tragedians: Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides.

  • Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy incl. Agamemnon)

  • Sophocles’s Theban Trilogy incl. Oedipus the King, Antigone, and Oedipus at Colonus

  • Euripides’s Hippolytus (+ Bacchae)

Examples of later tragic drama based on or comparable to their plays

  • Shakespeare’s Hamlet

  • Racine’s Phaedra

  • O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra and Desire Under the Elms

Objective 2. To study "genres" not as rules but as an adaptable system for classifying art and its reception

  • Esp. narrative genres—the “contract with the audience” for how a story begins, proceeds, and ends

  • an associated term in critical thinking is taxonomy, the science or technique of arrangement, order, or classification <Gk tassein to arrange, put in order

  • conventions (a.k.a. expectations, norms, standard features, "contract with reader")

  • dramatic art as "imitation," mimesis, or dialogue


Objective 3. To learn Tragedy as, ironically, the least popular but greatest literary genre.

3a. Historical terms of tragedy

  • Tragedy rises not when a nation or people are depressed but when they are confident and enterprising. In contrast, when anxiety and uncertainty unsettle a people or nation, they turn to more popular or escapist genres like comedy and romance.

  • Under what circumstances may tragedy thrive?

  • Classical Greece as birthplace of modern humanism and western civilization: What part did Tragedy play?  

3b. Aesthetic values and terms for tragedy:

  • Aesthetics and ethics of Tragedy: How can audiences enjoy tragedy, and why might it do us good?

  • Can taste be educated? People naturally like romance, adventure, spectacle, and happy endings, but can they learn to appreciate the subtler, less natural, more rigorous pleasures of tragedy?

  • Contrast the push-button emotions of sentimentality, escapism, triumph.

  • If the purpose of literature is entertainment plus education, do we learn more from Tragedy? To assert the purpose of tragic art for a “feel-good” society. To balance art's competing or complementary values of "liking" and "learning."

  • Is it possible to defend a genre for being less popular? Can being less popular be a positive quality? On what grounds can such an anti-democratic value be defended?

3c. Aesthetic terms for tragedy:

Forbidden idea: people like tragedy b/c they like to see others who are worse off than they are.
(Students often write this but never provide evidence. The mistake confuses tragedy with spectacle.)

3d. Subjects of Tragedy—non-escapist!

  • Family and tragedy—“Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Tolstoy, Anna Karenina)

  • Individual and community


Sophocles or Prof. White?

The Tragedy of the Happy Ending

Greek Tragedy and the Ancient Stage, by John Porter, U. of Saskatchewan

Peter Meineck, Greek Theater Production (includes bibliography)